Amy Lanham admits she didn’t really know what to do with her life. The Roanoke native graduated from Cave Spring High school and got a degree in dental assisting from Virginia Western Community College. She went into dentistry to follow in her family’s footsteps; her grandfather, two great-uncles and two cousins are in dentistry. Then she worked as a title insurance underwriter for nine years.
Meanwhile, her husband, Jerry, had always wanted her to have a restaurant or catering business one day because he wanted people to enjoy her cooking. That chance came when she learned that venerable Roanoke caterer Lib Wilhelm was looking for someone to take over the business she founded in 1973. Lib & Amy Catering was born August 1, 2000, with Lib staying on for two years to assist with the transition, “introduce me to clients and show me the ropes,” Lanham says.
In addition to keeping Lib Wilhelm’s name (Lanham said it is a tribute to her), she also retained a large group of the staff—servers, cooks, bartenders and chef Gary Johnson. She said Johnson has been in the business for 23 years and takes care of the kitchen while she runs the business. She jokes that “he inherited me,” since he was there long before her.
Of all the types of jobs they do, Lanham likes catering weddings best of all.
“They’re so joyous, and everyone is there to celebrate.”
She says she’s lucky that she hasn’t encountered many “bridezillas. People tell me I have a calming demeanor.”
She’s had her share of interesting locations. For several years, they catered a corporate event for 500 people that spanned three floors and offered little prep space.
“It was a challenge to orchestrate!”
She’s also done events outdoors in the middle of fields, in parking garages, at Explore Park and at the Discovery Center at Mill Mountain Zoo—complete with snakes and frogs. The key to all of those, she says, is “you plan and make adjustments.”
Lanham has kept many of Lib Wilhelm’s dishes on her menu, but every fall she comes up with some new ideas.
“Gary just has to adjust to new recipes,” she says, laughing.
It’s the older choices that keep customers coming back. She says they’ve been a part of many generations of clients over the years.
The most popular items on the menu? The cheese slaw, the turkey sandwich with apple and cheese, the chicken salad—“people say we have the best chicken salad”—and the shrimp and grits. About Lib’s famous cheese slaw, Lanham once asked Wilhelm if she created it.
“She just smiled, and never answered.”
Lanham’s own steak Diane and lobster is her signature dinner offering.
Lanham goes to every event, even when there are several scheduled for the same day.
“I’m very conscientious about making sure all the details are taken care of,” she says. “I’m a Leo. We like to have our way.”